The Geek Shall Inherit The Earth

6:37:00 PM

"Imagine the future will come with a scream. I was buying some feelings from a vending machine." - The Verve, "Life's An Ocean," A Northern Soul. 1995


I suspect that few other generations to walk this Earth like "X" has had the privilege to experience and interact directly with such a Sea-change such as this one- a generation not unlike those living during the decline and fall of the Roman empire, not unlike those living during the life of Jesus (and it took about 200 years before his "cult" was seen as other than radical Judaism by any other name), and certainly not unlike either the nomads at the dawn of agriculture, or those living during the birth of capitalism, industrialization or modern democracy.

That is to say, to most people's reckoning, it's only been 10 years or so since the Internet and mobile phones were in a lot of people's hands and homes. Prior to that it was either brought out of car trunks and heavy briefcases, or out of the university's computer lab where friends and family just said, "Huh?" when you said where you had spent a sleepless night.

It's been only 15 years or so since the personal computer was anything but the fascination of geeks and children who prided themselves on their ASCII artwork or their savvy with DOS prompts. And 25 years ago, there were, at best, four TV channels, five or six radio stations, no way to watch it over again using a VCR, and probably only one or two major newspapers to read from. Bookstores were cubby holes in malls. Starbucks didn't exist. Diet cola was only starting to catch on.

About seven years ago Napster, having already arrived on the scene and wrought, from what reports say, was a geek-savant's lonely warren while he ditched class, engaged in the first, and perhaps only significant martyrdom in this apocalyptic revolution called the World Wide Web. The established media companies were going to shut it down with their trained standing armies of lawyers. And they did. The first skirmish was won by the old guard, but Pandora's box was already opened, and if anyone recalls the myth, before it was shut, only Hope remained inside; hope that the world would ever be the same, if you will.

A few years later, geeks continued to code and refine the idea and technology that Napster introduced into the mainstream - namely, peer-to-peer file sharing. And for those still in a cave about what that tech-terminology means, it's simply to say that there's a method for me to share with you any file that's on my computer. And, while Napster was brought down because its software and method involved centralizing the mechanisms of the file exchange, what is now considered the emerging norm of file-share is branded under the sort of awe inspiring word: "torrents."

Unfortunately for the old guard and any media company that purveys in music, movies, books, software and so on, the "torrent" and software which handles the exchange between average folk like you and me circumvents the notion that any sort of file is being shared from any one place and from anyone in particular. In short, the technology breaks up any package of information, say "Iron Man (2008)" or "The Dark Knight (2008)" while it's still in the theaters, and breaks it up into hundreds of pieces that are strewn over what could be hundreds of individual's computers. The version shot on a digital video camera by a pasty-faced, teen-aged theater janitor or projectionist is then reconstructed as if from a transporter back into a whole movie on your own machine. Sadly - or triumphantly from whose camp one chooses to count as a member of one's team - deft computer programmers have essentially made the act of copying and swapping rich media into a swarming army that no corporate entity has the means of identifying and focusing their army of lawyers on. At best they could try to root out the "terrorist" who sat in the theater opening day and filmed the movie on a camcorder, but when everyone has such a gadget and, perhaps, that dude namelessly working the projector for minimum wage and whose scruples have yet to develop, well then that the army that is taking down the media industry is nothing short of some Tyler Durden action; Fight-Clubbish-style, In short, we're taking that industry down - Us with a capital "We the people."

And yet again, while we might wax nostalgic about simpler times (10 years ago) when, if what one aspired to be was a musician, or a journalist, or a radio personality, or a photographer, or a filmmaker, or an author, or even a publicist or an event organizer, the task of becoming that invariably involved gaining the favor of some executive or talent scout in one of these citadels of the media. Nowadays, it goes without saying that just about anyone is armed with not only the equipment it takes to make a film or snap a photograph and so on, but also they have ample access to a means of publishing, distributing globally, promoting their works and opinions, and even charging for it.

Beyond media, there are on-demand services growing for tangible goods that, according to one overseas Web site, at the very least, it's not just tee-shirts and coffee mugs, but robust pieces of furniture cut and measured to the particular size of the buyer. One can only hope that the trend will extend in so far as it would only take imagination to design goods while industry can make and ship one's designs at will. One would hope that we are emerging into a world where the only impedance left to anyone is imagination.

The upshot of this is, among other things, that the signal-to-noise-ratio is brutal, and one might even say that hard work, imagination and a little bit of luck isn't going to be enough to cut through the mass of people clamoring for center stage. It's as if the dynamics have changed, but the result is the same. If one is aiming at significant prosperity from these pursuits, it's still necessary to have the backing and favor of one of these powerful companies with a lot of leverage in these matters to turn, say, a home movie into a real production, or a garage band into a national act , or to take one's book listed amidst thousands on Amazon to a favorable place on the shelves of Barnes and Noble or the Kindle.

In truth, no Sea-change, even one as significant as this, erases or buries the zeitgeist that gave birth to it. The past remains preserved within the "new" way of doing things, and, at best, what was the old guard remains as significant as it ever was, though its role is not so overt as it once may have appeared. Take for instance that monarchical structures are still alive and thriving despite the prevailing spirit of democratic society: a "corporation" where upward mobility is limited and orders are issued from on high to the lowly customer service representative. While the birth of Capitalism represented a different sort of interdependence, the focus of indebtedness to one's "leige" happens is framed as wage rather than title or allegiance. From a certain point of view, modern religions still glorify and recast stories that originate from a sort of nature worship. In short, though we may be a civilization and a generation with a front row seat to the next paradigm, the future will most likely be like the past with a few corrections and a shift of attention to accommodate such a massive empowerment given to the average citizen in the form of personal technology.

On the other hand, the mega corporations do, in fact, have to contend with penetrating but frivolous notions lie that it's not going to be business as usual for a long time. It's still not particularly common that folks are knowledgeable about how to access the "torrent" space. And, the powers that be are employing the best tactic they can muster at this point to halt the change that is happening to how folks access media, engage each other, and depend on them for their play and for their futures. They're employing a dissemination of something similar to the objections raised when the printing press came into being or when the movie camera came to be used: that it's unethical and wrong.

It [information sharing via the Web] is being cast as theft, and to a large degree, they're right. It is theft from a perspective of how the idea of property is preserved. It is also, clearly, a contention cast with language that is fruitless to defend or uphold within the context of our current legal ideas of copywright. The idea that file sharing can be prosecuted as "theft" is bound to erode and evaporate in much the same way as no one would burn someone at the stake for claiming that the Sun and not the Earth is the center of this solar system. It's bound to happen. It already is. File sharing is, now, talked about as theft, but is soon to be redeemed from its stigma of witchcraft.

So what's to be made of all this, and is it possible to anticipate the ways in which media and goods is to be enjoyed? It's vital to anticipate it if one's to be an inovator in these fast-acting times.

These drastic growth spirts will remain marked - for now - by the quality of centralized and well-capitalized corporate entities not by the mob rule found on such sites such as Youtube. To be quite honest, the engine of modernity will still be geared toward profit contrary to the Chomskian/Marxist/ "cash nexus" ideal. I'm sorry ... money and the need to work and hustle for a living or pay your taxes is not going away even if The Singularity, , or the second coming of Christ, or the Marxist revolution happens tomorrow. A revolution like this is a slow-cooked, fall of the bone experience . Delicious, for sure, but not anything more than the staple fare that we've come to know in the engine of progress.

Well, in 2004, Joseph Pine give a TED talk that might shed some light on what could be the possible result for you and me of this slow-cooked media meal:


On the one hand, the good news is that we don't have to do a thing other than get familiar with some applications on our computer or catch the latest business lawsuits in our news feed for information on the battlegrounds of this Sea change. On the other hand, it's going to be curious how "We the people" en masse demand a new world in which, in an effort to remain entertained, we sculpt a world of supply and demand that eradicates some of the barriers that the the Internet continues to say, "You're treading on me and holding me back."

As we turn to our monitors it true geekdom, glued to the screen and fascinated by our current Web fascinations, we are, in a grassroots kind of way, inheriting the Earth - forcing the powers that got us here to let go of their dominion and lording over information as a whole.

We are (or have become) a geek culture - fascinated and enraptured by our gadgets. And, because of this, we will inherit the Earth.

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